The Vodacom Cheetahs play probable wooden spoonists, the Pumas this Friday, and without taking the game for granted Rassie Erasmus has decided to give the remainder of his extended squad game time.
Seven changes have been made to the team that beat Vodacom Western Province 28-13, two of those due to injury. Centre Chris Kruger and lock Corniel van Zyl are out for the next three weeks, and so Alwyn Hollenbach and Quinton Davids begin the game in their stead. Falie Oelschig gets another run at scrumhalf with Michael Claasens reverting to the bench.
A new loose forward combination of Kabamba Floors, Bian Vermaak and Darron Nel start in Witbank, while Barend Pieterse moves back into the second row. Captain Ollie le Roux shifts to tighthead for Jannie du Plessis, while Wian du Preez will wear the No 1 jersey.
On the bench, young Leopards signing Warren de Bruin awaits his first start in Cheetahs colours. After his Man-of-the-Match performance in Bloemfontein last week, Hendrik Meyer looks set to start against his former team-mates.
“I think that the Pumas backline has struggled since losing Hendrik,” Cheetahs fullback Bevin Fortuin told keo.co.za. “They have a few other decent players like Ashieq Wise and Darryl Coeries who we will have to keep an eye on, but their strength is mainly in the forwards.”
Fortuin highlighted the Pumas loose trio of Jonathan van der Schyff, Corne Steenkamp and Schalk van der Merwe as the danger men.
“I wouldn’t say that they are negative, but they are very good at slowing the ball down. It can really disrupt your momentum.”
In the first round, the Pumas nearly forced an upset at Vodacom Park, but eventually went down 27-42. Trailing 34-6 at the break, the visitors fought back and scored three tries to narrow the gap to a mere seven points (34-27). A late try and penalty to the Cheetahs ensured the hosts got away with the win.
But a lot has changed since 22 July. The Cheetahs are now at the top of the table with eight wins in 11 games. The Pumas, on the other hand, have managed just three bonus points for losses within seven points. The Free Staters have a decent chance of defending their title in 2006, while the Pumas may suffer the embarrassment of completing the season without a win.
Fortuin acknowledged this fact, but confirmed that his team have prepared for this game in much the same way as they prepared for Province last week. It’s a big game, and the win is important to the champs’ campaign.
“It’s easy to have the wrong attitude in a situation like this, but we need to keep our composure and ensure we get the win. The bonus point is secondary.
“The Pumas ran us close in the previous game, so we won’t underestimate them.”
When asked if Rassie Erasmus would be marshalling the troops from the @lantic Park roof with a mixture of flashing lights and gestures, Fortuin was uncertain, but believes the tactic is highly effective.
“It’s not a new thing, we’ve been doing it the whole season. As a player, I don’t feel that it’s distracting.
“In that position [on the roof], Rassie has the advantage of seeing a whole lot more in terms of the opposition’s strategy and patterns. The benefits of communicating these trends with the players and management on the field are obvious.”
Pumas: 15. Oginga Siwundla, 14. Darryl Coeries, 13. B.C du Plessis, 12. Arno Coetzee, 11. Lourens Dunn, 10. Pieter BenadÃ©, 9. Ashieq Wise (c), 8. Schalk van der Merwe, 7. Jonathan van der Schyff, 6. CornÃ© Steenkamp, 5. Stephan Gerber, 4. Bokkie Swanepoel, 3. Pierre du Toit, 2. Frikkie de Jager, 1. Johan Prins. Replacements: 16. MornÃ© Kruger, 17. Sean Johnson, 18. Jacques Lombaard, 19. Denzel Manuel, 20. Neil Cole, 21. Sasha Marot, 22. JeandrÃ© Fourie.
Vodacom Cheetahs: 15. Bevin Fortuin, 14. Gavin Passens, 13. Alwyn Hollenbach, 12. Hendrik Meyer, 11. Gaffie du Toit, 10. Willem de Waal, 9. Falie Oelschig, 8. Darron Nel, 7. Bian Vermaak, 6. Kabamba Floors, 5. Barend Pieterse, 4. Quinton Davids, 3. Ollie le Roux (c), 2. Richardt Strauss, 1. Wian du Preez. Replacements: 16. Jannie du Plessis, 17. Kobus Caldo, 18. Rory Duncan, 19. Ryno van der Merwe, 20. Michael Claassens, 21. Warren de Bruin, 22. Phillip Burger.
By Jon Cardinelli